I can trace my artistic inclinations all the way back to at least the third grade. When asked by the teacher to render a watercolor of a local landscape, I provided a view of Stone Mountain from the front lawn - but with the many bright orange trash cans I had seen on a recent visit intact. I remember being questioned about these additions, and I responded that the trash cans had really been there and thus were included. Whereas the teacher was confounded by their inclusion, I would have thought their exclusion somehow illogical. I'd like to think that even then I had some kind of notion to preserve this landscape the way I had seen it. Perhaps this notion is what led me to become a photojournalist.
Having nurtured my artistic footing further and discovering "what I want to be when I grow up" in high school elective courses such as humanities, I always find it hard to believe that art classes in public schools are considered so expendable. They are the first courses to suffer from budget cuts.
From the clothes we wear to the shows we watch on TV, art is integrated in our society, but people in general have little knowledge at how to respond to it.
I don't need concrete proof of this, the feeling is in the air, inherent in some of my favorite overheard phrases at art exhibits such as: "Anyone could have taken that photo" or "My 3-year-old son might as well have splattered paint on that canvas."
It seems embedded in the minds of the general public that art is over their heads and definitely not worth figuring out. I believe this is due to the fact that art is not emphasized at a young age in our public schools. Parents may find it trivial beyond their little tyke's first drawing of the family in front of a house, a green bar on the bottom for grass, a blue bar across the top for a sky. On the other hand most high school students may regard it as an "easy A" class, with no tests, homework or essays due. With all the emphasis our culture puts on keeping itself entertained with music and movies why don't school systems hold art and art appreciation, on par with all other required subjects?
The answer may be that some people feel it is a somewhat frivolous activity. They may not think it's pragmatic in that there are no laws as in science class, no formulas you can memorize. Artists can only build on what has come before them and offer a new variation on a theme. Perhaps it is threatening to some because it the only class that values personal expression over a memorization of the facts and figures. The reason art is important for children, teenagers and adults alike is because it is the emotional language in which we express ourselves. It's how we communicate feelings we can't express in words. For some teenagers who are not athletically inclined and can't vent their frustrations and natural aggression on the playing field art may play an especially important role. Even a modest understanding of artistic terminology and art history would empower youth to respond articulately to the complex visual world that we have created.
I believe that a public school should be fully committed to fostering a child's artistic interests just as much interest as in science or math. In order to be fully functioning artists, students must rely on a well rounded education. Great art has always been informed by other important lessons in science and history, and in fact is part of discovering and interpreting history.
Parents! Educators! Some students don't want to be doctors and lawyers! They don't want to end up lost in a fluorescent sea of office cubicles! They want to be paid (yes, paid!) to be creative, artistic individuals like me!
Zach Porter is a photographer for the News Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.